When you’re thinking about studying kinesiology, a career in physical education may be the first thing that comes to mind. However, this degree is well-suited for people interested in helping others in a wide range of career paths in sports, nutrition, health, and wellness. As a current kinesiology major or a prospective student considering the field, you’ll inevitably face this important question: What can you do with a kinesiology degree?
If you haven’t decided on a career path, it’s beneficial to explore your options and discover the opportunities a kinesiology degree can offer. Here’s an overview of kinesiology studies, possible career outcomes of this degree program, and how your education affects your professional future.
What Is Kinesiology?
Kinesiology is the study of body mechanics related to movement. Kinesiology students take a closer look at the human musculoskeletal system, which consists of more than 600 muscles and 206 bones, along with a host of joints, tendons, and ligaments all working together to support the body. When disruptive physical activity—or lack of it—has an ongoing impact on bodily health, it’s important for healthcare professionals to understand the various functions involved in patients’ overall well-being.
“Kinesiology is any sort of degree that focuses on studying human movement,” says Dr. Christopher Cesario, Associate Clinical Professor and Director of Student Affairs for the DPT program at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. With this in mind, a typical kinesiology curriculum explores the different types of mechanical interactions in the body, including:
- Anatomical: Kinesiologists learn how an individual patient’s skeletal structure and musculature support the body’s framework.
- Physiological: Physiology is essential to kinesiology studies because it focuses on how organ systems contribute to health and wellness on individual and systemic levels.
- Neurological: Since pain and impaired movement are often early warning signs of injury, understanding neurological symptoms can help therapists identify health issues.
- Biochemical: Recognizing the variations in the body’s vital processes and chemical substances based on diet, genetics, and fitness are essential when assisting patients achieve their health and wellness goals.
- Biomechanical: Kenisologists have an in-depth understanding of biomechanics, the science of human movement, which is crucial for overseeing fitness, designing safe practices, and treating physiological issues.
- Neuromotor: Since kinesiology professionals work with people with a variety of health conditions and performance goals, they need to know how neurological issues can influence motor functions.
- Psychological: To create effective treatment plans, health professionals have to address psychological factors that influence biochemistry, motor functions, and overall fitness.
7 Possible Career Paths for Kinesiology Graduates
Kinesiology programs bring together so many aspects of biological, physical, and neurological sciences. Therefore, as the healthcare field continues to grow, new opportunities are emerging for professionals with expertise in human movement.
To help you decide what to do with a kinesiology degree, here’s 7 jobs that combine an education in kinesiology with a love of fitness, health, and public service.
1. Physical Therapist
Physical therapists (PT) provide guidance and care plans to help patients heal from injuries, improve mobility, use assistive devices, manage pain, and achieve wellness goals. PTs have patients of all ages who may be coping with long-term illnesses, recovering from injuries, or learning to live more active, independent lifestyles. They typically collaborate with other healthcare professionals to come up with the best therapeutic exercises and rehabilitative strategies depending on a patient’s medical history and needs.
“Physical therapy is a natural fit for kinesiology majors for a number of reasons,” says Cesario. “The closeness in which we work with people is a huge parallel. It’s a good sort of prep because most of the prerequisites and background knowledge are all natural extensions of the kinesiology degree.”
2. Exercise Physiologist
Exercise physiologists evaluate a patient’s health, conduct fitness testing, and develop recovery or improvement regimens. They work with athletes who want to maximize their fitness levels and patients with chronic or serious illnesses (e.g., heart disease). For example, while some patients may need stress testing before undergoing surgery, athletes often seek testing for endurance, flexibility, or body composition.
Exercise physiologists need to understand body mechanics and how different organ systems support each other, so they often benefit from having a solid background in kinesiology. They also report vital information to other healthcare professionals, therefore exercise physiologists must know how to administer tests and monitor important health indicators related to human movement.
3. Athletic Trainer
For sports enthusiasts, working as an athletic trainer is a great opportunity to provide preventive, emergency, and rehabilitative care to athletes of all ages. Sports teams, sports centers, clinics, educational institutions, and even the military rely on trainers to monitor the physical fitness of athletes and respond to injuries.
Athletic trainers may administer first aid onsite at sporting-related events or work in a clinical setting providing fitness recommendations and rehabilitation plans. As their main goal is to prevent injuries, trainers are often responsible for making sure athletes and sports programs comply with important safety regulations as well as the fundamentals of human movement discussed in kinesiology programs.
4. Personal Trainer
Personal trainers help people with their individual fitness goals, provide exercise instruction, and recommend fitness regimens. Most often, you’ll find personal trainers in gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios, and health clubs, but some professionals offer training sessions in client homes. While personal trainers primarily work one on one with clients, they may also develop exercise classes for larger groups or host private sessions.
A college education isn’t required to enter the field, but obtaining a kinesiology degree can help personal trainers earn more and understand how to tailor fitness programs for their clients. Many people have physical limitations, special needs, or invisible disabilities, making it important for trainers to create fitness plans that are safe, achievable, and flexible when necessary. Not only do the best trainers have knowledge of body mechanics and physiology, but they also understand the psychological challenges involved in fitness and work to help clients overcome them.
Dietitians help patients evaluate their eating habits and develop dietary plans to improve nutrition and overall health. Many clients consult a dietitian on their own to work toward personal health and weight loss goals. Others are referred to a dietitian for professional guidance managing serious conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obesity, and eating disorders.
Educating clients on creating a balanced lifestyle around healthy eating is an important part of this role. As a result, dietitians take time to understand the physical, biochemical, psychological, and environmental factors shaping a patient’s dietary choices—all of which are covered in most kinesiology degree programs. They do this through a combination of diagnostic testing, counseling, observation, and meal planning instruction to give clients the best chance of succeeding at their nutritional goals.
6. Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists help patients achieve more independence and mobility in everyday life by providing therapeutic solutions for managing impaired movement. They work with people who live with developmental disorders, chronic illnesses, and long-term disabilities, as well as patients rehabilitating from injury and illness, such as car accidents and strokes.
By evaluating a patient’s needs, personal environment, and medical history, occupational therapists find ways to improve their mobility with therapeutic exercises, adaptive routines, assistive devices, and supportive services. Patients often have other conditions affecting their abilities, such as cognitive impairment. All of these responsibilities require an in-depth understanding of kinesiology studies and rehabilitation.
7. Sports Medicine Physician
Sports medicine is one of the many specialties available to licensed physicians after completing a residency and fellowship. Sports medicine physicians treat injuries and illnesses in athletes and provide preventive health services. Athletes of all ages can suffer short-term physical trauma or develop long-term issues that change their performance. Physicians in this field primarily focus on musculoskeletal issues related to a patient’s physical activities, rather than handling all aspects of their health.
Majoring in kinesiology as an undergraduate student is a smart way to prepare for medical training since a pre-med major isn’t required to get into medical school. In addition, foundational and advanced kinesiology coursework are included in medical degree programs. Given the difficulty and competitiveness of medical school, gaining this fundamental knowledge in advance may help you succeed as a medical student.
How Education Affects Your Career Outcomes
Ongoing education and industry-recognized credentials are invaluable in healthcare fields. Health and wellness services require a lot of trust between patients and providers, and it’s easier to establish this trust when your skills and knowledge are easy to verify. Advanced or specialized education also increases your earning potential and career mobility, allowing you to transition into higher roles.
Keep in mind that some careers, such as sports medicine, require more education than fields like physical therapy or personal training. When choosing this career path, it’s vital to consider how much commitment your education will require and how you can potentially bridge the gap by gaining experience in a field with a low barrier to entry.
A great benefit of kinesiology programs is that they cover many aspects of health and expose you to roles you may not have considered. So, don’t be discouraged if your professional interests change while enrolled in a kinesiology degree program.
“It’s not unusual for somebody to have a bit of a gap year, or something similar, when their career aspirations shift,” says Cesario. “Since we’re a post-baccalaureate program, some students may need to go back to school and take a prerequisite course or two anyway.”
Take the First Step Toward a Rewarding Career
Still asking yourself, “What can I do with my kinesiology degree?” Consider speaking with professionals in the field to gain a better understanding of what they do on a daily basis. However, as physical therapy directly builds upon the curriculum of a kinesiology program, it’s often a natural next step after earning your undergraduate degree.
Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ offers a Post Baccalaureate Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree for individuals wanting to advance their skills with an advanced education. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the program combines research, labs, simulated clinical training, and service learning to prepare graduates for real-world health challenges. If you’re interested in learning more about Bouvé’s DPT program, contact an admissions counselor to find out if this educational program is a good fit for you.
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